Lawyer Peter Herbert vows to tackle racism in football - but is he just an opportunist who saw an open goal?

 

The barrister Peter Herbert sees himself as a civil rights campaigner in the tradition of Martin Luther King and he wants Britain’s black footballers to stand alongside him in the struggle. Go to his website (“D Peter Herbert OBE: Barrister at Law”) and you will find “fan” photographs of him alongside the likes of Jesse Jackson and the Rev Al Sharpton.

He once played Paul Robeson, the American actor and civil rights activist, in a theatre production that was favourably reviewed in The Guardian and is writing his own play about a civil rights case in Liverpool.

Herbert has established a platform as chairman of the Society of Black Lawyers and has worked closely for years with the Black Police Association. Now he has turned his attentions to the beautiful game, wading into the latest football race row by calling on Premier League referee Mark Clattenburg to be suspended while he is investigated over alleged racist comments made to Chelsea’s Nigerian star John Obi Mikel. He has also ignited his own controversy by dubbing Tottenham Hotspur supporters “casual racists” for their embrace of the term Yid  Army as a mechanism for combating anti-Semitic abuse from rival supporters. Now he wants footballers to create something similar to the Society of Black Lawyers – the Black Footballers Association, if you will.

“We are trying to show them the potential of black self-organisation,” said Herbert. “There are 60 million people of colour in Europe and the best  known and wealthiest of them are footballers. The potential for leadership and excellence and role models is stunning.”

He admits this battle will not be easy, noting that it is “early days” for the project. Footballers “have not been empowered” through university educations to comprehend the role they can have in social change. “We are going to engage and hopefully persuade by using examples from other jurisdictions,” he said.

If he is going to persuade football stars to join his cause, he needs to  establish that black British footballers are treated differently from white ones. Which helps explain Herbert’s high profile this week, putting forward a radical 10-point plan for tackling  racism in the game. Among the  more radical proposals is giving  referees the power to call off matches when they hear racist abuse from the crowd. Herbert, 55, has been compared to the campaigning black American lawyer Johnnie Cochran, who represented not just OJ Simpson and Michael Jackson but black sports stars including boxer Riddick Bowe and American footballer Jim Brown. The Newcastle-born barrister, who notes that baseball star Jackie Robinson was a big supporter of Dr King in the 1960s, is a close follower of the racial politics of American sport. He likes the “Rooney Rule”, named after Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, who used affirmative action to give African-American coaches more opportunities in the National Football League. English football has only four black managers. Rooney is now US ambassador to Ireland and Herbert wants to visit him.

He will hope for a warmer reception than he has received this week from British football. His Spurs campaign, particularly his threat of referring the matter to the Metropolitan Police, went down badly at White Hart Lane on Thursday night where the  crowd delighted in chanting “Yid Army”. Supporter Tim Framp, of the We Are N17 campaign, said the “positive” use of the term was not deemed offensive by Tottenham’s sizeable Jewish following. “The only way to make it lose its sting is to reclaim it.”

But battle-hardened Herbert, a veteran of 30 years of campaigning, says the non-Jewish majority at Spurs has no right to “reclaim” such a term of abuse and that a criminal offence is committed under section 5 of the Public Order Act if a single television viewer is offended. He might have to “have a word” with the local borough commander.

Piara Powar, former head of Kick It Out – which works with the football authorities – and now executive director of Football Against Racism in Europe, said: “I think Peter Herbert and the Society of Black Lawyers are naive. They perhaps don’t  know football.”

No doubt Powar would argue the game has made vast progress in combating racism in the past 30 years. But some black players, including Rio Ferdinand, were critical of Kick It  Out’s handling of the recent John Terry race case. 

Herbert – who today was off to see the multi-ethnic teenage side Leicester Nirvana FC, victims of alleged monkey chants from spectators during a recent under-15s game –sniffed an opportunity.

Some accuse him of simply being opportunist and flash (witness him  posing with a Mercedes registered P400 LAW). But he is not naive.  Don’t be surprised to see him with  a new “fan” picture, hanging out  with Rio.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor